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Me and Otto Frisch

Me and Otto Frisch

Otto Frisch was one of the great physicists of the 20th Century. I was not. But we did develop a certain relationship.

It was 1971 and I was a PhD physics student at the Cavendish Lab on Free School Lane at the University of Cambridge.

There were certain rituals. In mid morning everyone met for coffee. And in mid afternoon for tea.

The tea was my problem.

After everyone was seated a guy came in, got a tea cup with no saucer, and a slew of McVities Digestive Biscuits with no plate.

Then he sat next to me, slurping his tea and breaking his biscuits so they sprayed crumbs all over me.

After a few of these incidents I told my fellow PhD student that if this happens again I'll call the guy out.

He totally encouraged me with a gleam in his eye.

It happened again.

So I turned to the guy and said..

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

He replied very politely..

"Oh, I am Otto Frisch. I helped build the Atomic Bomb on the Manhattan Project with my good friend Enrico Fermi. And may I please ask who you are?"

The whole room was deadly silent and looking in my direction. So I didn't mess around. I told him I was a PhD Physics research student with no clue.

Tech Notes:
Frisch wrote two autobiograhpies:
What Little I Remember (1979): This focuses on Frisch's personal experiences and memories, particularly his early years in Vienna and his role in the discovery of nuclear fission. It's a charming and insightful read with vivid descriptions of scientific personalities and events.

Bird of Passage (1985): This book takes a broader approach, covering Frisch's entire life and career in physics. It delves deeper into his scientific work, including his contributions to nuclear physics, particle physics, and condensed matter physics.

Content written and posted by Ken Abbott